Off to LA

Gone for the weekend, fleeing the bears, fireworks, and assorted chants and clichés in favor of cafeterias, Googie, and the heretofore unvisited Hollywood branch of Amoeba Records.

I love Los Angeles. This is not a sentiment which I’ve ever been embarrassed to admit, despite the fact that residents of San Francisco are not supposed to speak such heresy. But for a series of coincidences in 1991, I might be living there rather than here now anyway, and sometimes I still feel the slightest twinge of regret at my decision.

Yes, I realize that the perpetual sunshine and the relative lack of fog or rain would most likely make me suicidal. I understand that the lack of a real pedestrian focus (although there’s more of one than some people realize) might be annoying.

But LA is a city of magic and of dreams, and it holds a fascination for me like nowhere else, except perhaps Chicago and Detroit. It’s a place where I don’t particularly want to live, but where I could spend untold months exploring without getting bored.

Oddly enough, I’d never before had ample opportunity to do this exploring. My first trip was a quick affair, a drive-by on the way to San Diego in 1991. Later trips were always connected with work, either mine or that of a significant other, and never seemed to allow me any time to do what I wanted to do, see what I wanted to see, etc.

Against our better judgment, we left on the Friday afternoon which began President’s Day weekend. It was also Valentine’s Day. Our original goal was to stop by Fresno and see Mark’s sister, but we learned on the way down that she was out of town, so we headed straight for Bakersfield, with a stop in Coalinga and another for a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner at an Arby’s in a truck stop.

This trip would be different. There was no real agenda…

Bakersfield to LA

After a Saturday morning breakfast at my favorite Bakersfield diner (discovered six years ago on a trip to Las Vegas), we explored downtown for a little while, looking at interesting buildings and wandering through the remains of a classic Woolworth’s store which now houses an antique mall.


We stopped at Long’s for previsions and cash, and made our way toward the Grapevine, hoping that the mudslide from a couple of days before had been cleared. Fortunately, it had.


We had one of those mileage milestones near the summit, which was the most eventful part of the Grapevine leg. Finally, we arrived in Greater Los Angeles, which is to say that we were within 40 or 50 miles of the center of town. We passed Magic Mountain and all the assorted beige suburbs, and finally the freeways started getting bigger and more intense.

We arrived at the lovely Motel 6 – LAX in time to realize that we’d be sharing it with about a hundred youth soccer teams. This wouldn’t have been to much of a problem except that this particular Motel 6 was a former Howard Johnson’s hotel, about 10 stories tall with only elevator access to the rooms. Unsupervised kids and elevators are not a good combination. But there was a king-size bed and a balcony overlooking an off-ramp. It was good…


Saturday night dinner was at Clifton’s Cafeteria, which was a high spot on the agenda which we didn’t really have. I’d been here once before and it’s a most amazing place, the surviving link in a chain of cafterias from the 1930s. Clifton’s is a wonderful joint, with most of those cafeteria classics I miss from the south (except for the collard greens and fried okra), and I don’t come to LA without visiting if possible.


After dinner, we roamed around downtown LA for a while. Lots of people tend to forget that there actually IS a downtown LA, but it’s there in its faded glory. The department stores and most of the theatres are closed, but it’s still a lively place, with shops catering to a largely Latino clientele and at least one really cool rock-goth-skate shop where I was pretty excited to see that Vision Street Wear is back.


We headed back to the Motel 6 to, ummm, eliminate the heavy dinner, and then wandered back out toward Hollywood and the LA branch of Amoeba Music. The San Francisco and Berkeley branches will never be quite the same for me; this place is a huge mecca for music AND video, and we spent most of the vacation budget here. It was truly amazing…


Further driving ensued (Hollywood Boulevard on a Saturday night is a nightmare, by the way) and somehow we ended up going all the way to Burbank and Toluca Lake, where we had late-night food at the perfectly-preseved Bob’s Big Boy I’d visited once before with Duncan.

Then it was back to the Motel 6. The soccer kids were, alas, not asleep yet…

Covering Lots of Ground


Sunday morning. Breakfast required. Not an easy task, it seems. We tried Pann’s in Inglewood, which had an hour-plus wait. We tried Johnie’s at Wilshire and Fairfax (across from the old May Co. where Jan Brady bought the silver platter), but it was closed for good. We finally landed at a thoroughly generic IHOP in Hollywood.


Now fed, we tooled through Hollywood again, stopping by Amoeba so Mark could return something and I could take more pictures.


Afterward, we took a quick drive through the Hollywood Hills, visited the last Mayfair Market in existance on the planet, and headed for the sight (site?) I’d been craving all weekend. It was an unassuming little house on an unassuming little street in North Hollywood. It told the story of a lovely lady…

Yeah, you know the house…


We covered a lot of ground on this particular Sunday, most of it by freeway. Mark was itching to see “the stack”, and once we arrived, I knew why. It was quite amazing. It’s kind of nice to spend time in a city which is proud of its freeways rather than ashamed of them…


We also popped by LAX to see the Exposition Building, and to a Fry’s because, well, that’s what we do on the weekends, even in LA.


Being a freak for old shopping centers, I wanted to see the remains of the Braodway-Crenshaw center, an early example of an extremely well-designed center dating from about 1950. The two anchors were still standing, with the Broadway store having been turned into a Wal-Mart and the May Co. now a Robinsons-May. I was amazed to see it was still rather thriving, albeit in the midst of a suburb which was not exactly as middle-class as it had been fifty years ago.

Actually, the whole of Crenshaw Boulevard is an interesting cruise for those of us interested in old commercial architecture.


For the evening, we headed to Orange County, planning to eat in a restuarant at Knott’s Berry Farm which Mark remembered from his youth. Alas, it was not quite the same restaurant anymore, so we looked in vain for any interesting Googie architecture left in Anaheim, bought matching Snoopy mugs with our names on them, and went on our way.


We took a long surface route back home, stopping for dinner at a small Mexican place in La Habra, and looking for more neon. About half way home, I realized we were very close to the oldest operating McDonald’s in America, so we had to stop by there too. Afterward, it was back to the Motel 6 for our last night in the king-size bed.


Homeward Bound


President’s Day and home. We successfully had breakfast at Pann’s this time, covering my cravings for both Googie and grits. We also did a little cheap grocery shopping before returning to San Francisco, only partly so I could visit cool old Vons stores (most of which have been butchered inside since the Safeway takeover).


We made it through Ventura and beautiful downtown Oxnard, with its inexplicable “two-skyscrapers in the middle of a field” skyline. Soon, we were out of the city and its assorted field of influence and on the way to our planned dinner stop at McLintock’s in Pismo Beach. Interesting place, great food, and more Wranglers and cowboy boots than I’ve ever seen in one room in California. Note that I do NOT have a cowboy fetish, so this was merely a source of amusement.

The depressing sign suggested that our adventure in LA would soon be over…